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Misuse of Korean admiral`s name?

Posted March. 13, 2013 06:47,   


“I can accept comparing me with Admiral Horatio Nelson of Great Britain but please don`t compare me with (legendary Korean admiral) Yi Sun-shin of Joseon (Korea). I would be no match for him.” So said Admiral Heihachiro Togo, who crushed Russia’s Baltic fleet in 1905 as commander of the allied Japanese fleet in the Russo-Japanese War. He rejected praise as a war strategist at the level of Yi. He had a clear reason for expressing his sense of profound respect and admiration for the Korean admiral, who inflicted a devastating defeat on the Japanese fleet of Hideyoshi Toyotomi in the Imjin Waeran, or the 1592 Japanese invasion of Korea. Togo said that while Nelson created something from something, Yi created something from nothing.

The Battle of Hansan, in which Yi defeated the Japanese navy by mobilizing turtle battleships, in 1592, and the Battle of Trafalgar, in which Nelson crushed a joint Franco-Spanish fleet in 1805, are milestones in the history of naval warfare. Both admirals did share one thing in common: being great naval commanders who represented East and West but through different paths. While Nelson achieved victory thanks to strong national support to emerge as a national hero, Yi did so by overcoming intense strife among political factions in Korea and his own imprisonment. Unlike Nelson, who had love affairs with Emma Hamilton, a married woman, Yi displayed no room for error even in his personal life.

Controversy has flared over a KBS TV weekend soap opera that uses Yi`s name in the title. “Yi Sun-shin: the Best,” which features singer IU as the protagonist, will reportedly tell of the success story of the heroine, who makes it as a big star by overcoming hardship despite her poor background. Web users face an unpleasant situation in which IU`s name appears at the top of results when doing a search for Yi due to the drama`s influence. So a civic group of Koreans studying overseas is seeking a court injunction Monday to prevent the use of the Korean admiral`s name in the drama. The title itself can be considered problematic, but unruly lines such as “Protect the Dokdo islets, not our company,” or “You, 10 cents” in the drama have also grown controversial.

The state-run KBS, however, seems to have no intention to back off, as if enjoying the situation. The drama`s production team said, “The name of IU’s character in the drama is different in Chinese characters from that of Admiral Yi. The drama was titled out of a pure intent to present the story of a heroine who overcomes hardship through strong determination.” The team says its purpose is "giving words of consolation to our society awash in pain and suffering.” But the broadcaster’s bulletin board for viewers has had a flurry of posts like “This is a noisy marketing tactic,” and “While Japan is converting war criminals into war heroes, how can Korea damage the image of its great hero?” Many have also posted critical posts on the bulletin, with one saying, “A national broadcaster has commercialized one of the greatest Koreans.” In 2004, KBS presented a message of consolation that “justice will prevail without fail” to a society "full of conflict and divide" with the drama “The Immortal Yi Sun-shin.” The network apparently has had a hard time forgetting the success of the 2004 series.

Editorial Writer Koh Mi-seok (mskoh119@donga.com)